Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Love, Loss and Light at the end of the tunnel - how blogging got me through tough times.... by Morgan Forester of 'Letters From the Edge of the Platform'...

             "For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live"
T. Adorno

I remember exactly how I felt the minute I closed the door behind me after moving into my new flat in Prague.  After a heart-wrenching break-up that was drawn out over many months back in England, I'd seen my ex-partner off at the main train station known as "hlavní nádraží" so he could travel on to his new partner.  In that moment as I stood in my new surroundings, I was in 'emergency mode'.  Minute by minute it was my job to survive and stay the right side of the edge of sanity.  I was filled with a caffeine-like alertness to the loss I'd been through.  I felt like I was in shock after surgery.  As though they had removed a ventricle and replaced it with a machine instead.  Except I would need to remember to keep breathing, to put one foot in front of the other to keep moving, lest the machine also forgot how to do its job.

That was late summer 2010.  Gradually the temperature dropped and sunny days became a thing of the past.  The Czech autumn turned into a very harsh winter and soon I was facing Christmas.  It bore down on me with a pressure and shame that only being single in a family-obsessed country can generate.  Ultimately, I was saved by a nasty cold forcing me to stay in bed and look after myself, which got me through to a day or so before New Year's Eve.
In my lemsip haze, I made a decision to send a sort of 'message in a bottle' to the universe to test my idea that I should pursue writing in some way.  I told myself that I would write to a journalist and if I got a reply, I would take that as a sign.  I picked up an old article I'd saved from a newspaper and sent an email to the author.  A day later, I received a generous response, telling me that he sensed I must know how to survive tough times,  so I should go ahead and test the waters with my writing.

Having had that one little positive indication, I followed in the footsteps of other blogs I read, namely www.belgianwaffling.com or http://mccookerybook.blogspot.com/  and set up a blogger page.  I called it, 'Letters From the Edge of the Platform' in reference to the train station-related beginning of my move here.  Bit by bit, I began to uncover a greater priority in my life.  My day job was just a day job.  And woe betide anyone who rubbed me up the wrong way, because I would get my revenge in an internet instant with a blogpost full of descriptive venom for their atrocious behaviour.  

I realised that this frivolous-seeming occupation was in fact helping me develop another side to myself.  I began to love what I could do with words and marvelled in, "the soft and soothing attempts of scrolling through my brain for just the right match of word for my mood [...] The sense of wistful wallowing in a field of language."  Writing had become my new companion.

I also gained another companion.  I got invited on a date, which turned into other dates.  Before I knew it I was writing a blogpost entitled, "Love and other tragedies", beginning: "God save me - I think I've fallen in love. This is not very 'me'.  I'm meant to be dynamic and fiercely independent and cynical."  That 'love' (or tragedy) turned into a relationship and I tentatively started to explore the prospects of where this whole new lifestyle could lead me.

So far, I have known highs and lows in equal measure, including paid writing work and a wonderful holiday beyond my wildest dreams but also having to move out of my flat and find somewhere else to live just as I thought things must be looking up.  Did writing a blog 'save me' from great hardship?  Certainly not.  Did it bring a little light at the end of the tunnel with which to see my way through the next challenge?  Thankfully, yes.

Photo credits:
Katya Evdokimova  www.begemotfoto.com

Letters From the Edge of the Platform:

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

To Blog or not to blog, that is the question… Tracey Bailey of 'Mum in Meltdown' asks herself the question...

So to blog or not to blog, that is the question I asked myself nearly 18 months ago! Should I, shouldn’t I?

My life had drastically changed over the previous year, long term illness had seen to that. I went from being a professional Qualified Driving Instructor running my own business into the land of the ‘non-working’ (and NOT through choice!).

I had loved my job, it was fun, enjoyable and different every day. I was seen as a professional, not just someone’s mum or wife. Don’t get me wrong I love being both of those and it’s what my blog is based around, however, that’s not what I want to be defined as – I am more than that. I have a brain, ideas, I am creative and my mind is always on the go. I am my own person.

But let’s face it life is never simple, it likes to throw the odd curveball at you just to see what your made of. So, after being diagnosed with M.E / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (you know- that 80’s ‘Yuppie Flu’ thing...YES it’s real people, I can vouch for that!) my whole lifestyle changed. I could no longer physically work. I could no longer earn money and contribute financially. I had to rely on and become dependent on others.

This as you can imagine did not go down very well. My mind was still whirring. I needed desperately to keep my brain engaged and active and be something other than just the ‘ill me’, even if it was just in the virtual world. That’s when I took the plunge and started a blog. I had a lot to say and share, although to be honest I never really thought anyone would actually want to read it! But I blogged for me, my sanity and to put down in black and white what was going through my head.

My blog name was, and still is, perfect for me- I was (and still am) a Mum in Meltdown. I don’t necessarily feel the need to post daily, I will post when I have something to share or just get off my chest. I have since added a page for my M.E journey in the hope of raising more awareness of this ‘invisible ‘ illness that I, and thousands of others, live with every day( my symptoms are real people…….REAL). I have also added a craft page documenting my return to the knitting craft after many years, with the hope of improving, learning and hopefully selling in the near future (see I told you I had a creative side!)

I have also become totally obsessed engaged with the social networking side of blogging. Twitter and Facebook are fab for information, gossip and a good old virtual chat! Now I know that sounds a bit sad to some of you- but hey, some days that can be all I’m physically capable of, so each to their own and all that.

I see no sign of me giving up my blog anytime soon. I don’t earn from it (YET!!! But wouldn’t that be nice) but it documents my life and state of mind at the time. Even if no one were to read it I would still feel better in myself having written it all down and cleared it from my head.

I love what I get from it…………………………………….MY SANITY!


So in the virtual words of good old twittersphere  #thatisall

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The latest member of fashion's bloggeratti; Ricardo Hernandez on the genesis of The Style Inquisitor....

You wouldn’t think that a random midnight scroll through the interwebs would spark a potentially life-altering interest. But then again, we do live in the flourishing digital age. As such, a simple peek into a foreign world on a computer screen is powerful enough to derail you onto an entirely different path. You just have to tread lightly. Oh, and “fashionably.” 

I present my case. Exhibit A: a stumble upon moment at approximately 2 a.m. on a certain summer day in 2007 where I fell through the virtual rabbit hole and landed on the landmark Style.com page. I was somewhat intrigued. Exhibit B: the scene five minutes later, wherein a pair of piercing eyes fixed on what any other person would consider a common article, took Tim Blanks’ review of the work of British designer Hussein Chalayan as reason to rethink all matters entirely. Of course, nothing is common to “fashion” people about things of such perennial importance but I wasn’t a “fashion” person yet. Still, something triggered. I never anticipated that the days following that night would consist of educating myself on fashion lexicon. One day, haute couture. The next, Givenchy (which I foolishly mispronounced per my immaturity). Then, the big one- Anna Wintour. But aside from just learning that Louis Vuitton fathered much more than airport luggage, I became transfixed on the written word. The luxury of the fashion world seemed great, but the journalistic work behind it all seemed even greater.

It didn’t take very long for me to have that life epiphany that many of us do have circa those last years of school prior to reaching university status. So, in a need to document my thoughts about what I had and was still in the process of learning, I created The Style Inquisitor within a span of one mundane morning wake-up call and a highly ecstatic night slumber (to make a long story short and ruin the clichéd punch line, I turned “inquisitive,” into a noun). Suffice it to say, I couldn’t stop myself. Everyday, I logged on, and constant clacking of the keys followed suit. Analyzing Fall and Spring fashion week from New York across the sea to Milan and Paris, gawking at magazine editorials, admiring the then rising street style subculture…it was all divine. However, I was still unsure of the path I was embarking on. All I knew was that I wanted to write, plain and simple.

Things remained relatively normal until my site began to gain a following, among it a unique few asking me to share notions of my personal style on the blog. Now, at that time, the personal style niche was already becoming supersaturated, but I saw no harm in molding my aesthetic to include left out parts. Cue instant growth in readership. Yes, I panicked, but in the good way…and the bad. No shame!

Before I knew it, companies expressed interest, magazines emailed their words of admiration, and strangers spewed compliments on social media. Finally, the summer of 2011 rolled around and I was offered my first New York Fashion Week experience by a collaborative Nokia and Elle Magazine. I did hear that famed Hallelujah chorus at first, but it was quickly drowned out by intense zippering up of suitcases and sporadic yelps of excitement. Not kidding.
 Now, my rehashing my progress thus far sounds far from plateau, but people can’t forget that success is not measured by those wonderful high notes alone. What certain members of the blogosphere are fearful of revealing is that there are times when inactivity takes over, and things sort of mull over. Killjoy would an understatement for such a thing. Its somewhat of a poison, and has driven many bloggers to withdraw from what is not even supposed to be a race. Remaining steadfast on your goals and blocking out the negativity is the only remedy.

To this day, I still grow as a writer and blogger, and I am willing to admit that ups and downs will no doubt come my way. You have to realize it, otherwise being unprepared will take you down even more. And that, is not at all in fashion.

Ricardo Hernandez
The Style Inquisitor

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Dr Weblove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and just love Reddit... by uber blogger Rudhraigh McGrath...

The process of pursuing happiness almost always makes you sad, the process of avoiding sadness doesn't always make you happy. You still want to be happy, but the confusing lack of efficacy of the available options has made you increasingly neurotic about your prospects.

All too soon life becomes a montage of moments of infinite stress over finite problems, you become dried up and twisted, full of bile and regret. In the days of yore, you'd have to take up crocheting, pipe smoking or looking wistfully out frosted windows onto misty moors just to be able to get out of bed in the morning.

Thankfully, mankind's peerless intellect has produced a new way of engaging with happiness. These days there's this thing new thing called the "Internet" that was invented to allow you to achieve the same goal but you don't even have to get out of bed for it. 

On the internet, things make sense. You have options. 

This is because on the internet there are things that actually make you reliably happy for short periods of time. You have small moments of human honesty such as a watching a stoned child babble existential truisms while whacked out of his head on post-dental feel-good drugs. For a minute or two, you can feel truly alive reading an article about an 80 year old semi-comatose Alzheimer's patient who immediately does the Lindy Hop whenever she hears this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFd5Cci_pE4, and if you don't at least smile when you watch a video of Barack Obama singing the lyrics to Call me Maybe - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX1YVzdnpEc, you should seek professional help.

Yes, on a very visceral level the internet is made of smiles (Or cats, depending on who you ask - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi8VTeDHjcM)

The only problem is the more you smile, the more you find you NEED to smile. The more links you click, the more you find you NEED to click, and once you realize that you only feel happy when you're experiencing new and original digital content that the pursuit of happiness has an entirely new requirement.

I call them "Inficlicks". 

An Inficlick is a website that empowers the new denizens of The Age of Cyberhappy by making the continuous pursuit of digital happiness as efficient as humanly possible. An Inficlick provides a uniform platform for individual contributors to add to the common good by posting links of interest. This results in page after page of new content streaming in from all over the world at a rate that actually exceeds your ability to browse it. Other, less conceptually evolved people call them Content Aggregators, but I think "Inficlicks" is catchier. 

The most efficient Inficlick is of course Reddit. (Reddit.com)

I remember the dark days before I knew about Reddit.  Having to trawl around in agony, going to three or even FOUR sites to find an amusing video entitled "Puppy Assault Course Fail". Not knowing anything about upvotes, not caring about Karma, not understanding the importance of a snappy TLDR. When you hear about the "they" in the internet, they are talking about Reddit.

With infinite forums to post about your specific area of interest, Reddit's tagline is "The Front page of the Internet", so if until now you've been trawling around looking at other sites thinking that they're full of interesting and original content, a few weeks spent on Reddit will make you realize that Reddit is like the Rome of the internet, as eventually all links lead to Reddit.

If you want something, it's on Reddit. Want to ask real-time questions of an ex-Nazi Crossdresser? Go to Reddit. Want to swap stone-aged Faux-Vegan lentil pudding recipes? Go to Reddit. Want to argue over the existence of God in the Star Wars universe? Reddit's the place to be. 

I encourage you to spend an hour on Reddit, getting to know the ins and outs of the site, understanding the simple genius of the upvoting system.

I warn you however, if you have children or any kind of actual real life responsibility, give it a miss. You may never again be happy, but at least you won't go to jail for child neglect.

Meanwhile, I'm just going to check and see what's going on in r/videos/ (http://www.reddit.com/r/videos/)  

See you in seven hours.

Rudhraigh McGrath

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

How To Make A Mark on Art; by acclaimed art blogger Katherine Tyrrell...

The strapline of my blog Making A Mark says that Artist and writer Katherine Tyrrell writes about art for artists and art lovers.  

I’ve been writing about art rather a lot since I went public in January 2006.  I’ve posted to Making A Mark nearly every day generating well over 2k published posts read by more than 1.5 million visitors. It now has nearly 4k subscribers and, as an art blog, is currently rated#3 art blog in the UK and #11 in the world.  Traffic is on an exponential and upward trajectory.

I’ve had a wonderful time blogging about art and made lots of friends as a result.

Highlights of my blogging over the last six and half years have also included:
  • Promoting artwork I like and helping great artists get a better profile online
  • Predicting winners of major art competitions online - and getting it right about 75% of the time!
  • Artists telling me they’ve won an award - but  only entered after they read about the art competition on my blog
  • Matching up artists with galleries and going to their solo or group shows
  • Getting to video an exhibition before it opens and sharing that video on YouTube
  • Interviewing artists who’ve won a major prize
  • Photographing and filming artwork in museums that some people will never ever get to see except via my blog
  • Demystifying open exhibitions for artists who want to submit work - by showing them online what an exhibition looks like, what size the work is and how it’s framed
  • Being able to open people’s eyes to what it’s possible to see and do
  • Feedback from artists telling me that their website/blog traffic has rocketed after getting a mention on my blog
  • Informal consultations with artists about ‘the best way forward’ - leading to improved sales, recognition and awards
  • Being invited to awards ceremonies and awards dinners!
It can however be quite unnerving at times when introducing myself to artists only to find out that they all know about my blog and what I do!

So what do I write about which generates so many visitors?  

Simple - in short I write about what interests me for people like me - all the time.

Essentially I’m very much focused on writing for my peers - who are pretty similar to me. These are people around the world who are serious about art - and 
  • Produce drawings, painting and sculpture grounded in more traditional skills 
  • Lean towards the figurative rather than the totally abstract
  • Exhibit and sell their art
  • Aim to develop their artistic knowledge and skills, 
  • Love going to see art plus a not insignificant group who
  • Earn a living from their art 
  • Enter art competitions and major open exhibitions
I also have distinct maven-like qualities and know a lot about a lot of different aspects of art - or know somebody who does.  I’ve become the “go to” person for a lot of artists wanting to find out about a topic.

Having made a deliberate decision to have a “sensible career” when I was young, means I’ve now got a lots of scope to round out my art education and learn a lot more about art.  For my readers that means they get to share in my approach to tackling key topics within art education - and share in my learning online.

While I’ve taken classes at art schools and workshops with tutors, my degrees and work experience are actually in education, business and government.  As a result, I guess I tend to look at the art world from the perspective of somebody who has spent many years having to unpick organisations to work out what made them tick and whether they were functioning well and how they might best learn to do better.  

I like understanding what makes somebody or something excellent and sharing the lessons learned.  One of the ‘added value’ aspects of my blog is I tend to ask questions other people might not ask - and apply my analytical background in finance and business management to art business issues which crop up from time to time.  Hence I’m not in the least bit averse to trying to analyse what’s going on within eg the art economy.  Plus I crunch the numbers on anything and everything - eg the % chance of getting selected for an exhibition - at every available opportunity!  It does tend to provide for an alternative perspective and so far as I’m aware there is very little competition!

Over time Making A Mark has become more structured and more magazine like.  More than a few of my regular readers have commented that they much prefer my weekly round-up each Sunday to the Sunday papers!  

Weekly, monthly and annual routines provide a backbone to Making A Mark:  
  • Every week I do a round up of things which have caught my eye (“who’s made a mark this week?”).  
  • Every month I run an opinion poll on a topic of interest to artists 
  • Every year, for the last five years, I’ve run an awards scheme.  This aims to highlight all those artists who have ‘added value’ in some way during the course of the year.  
  • I promote and review all the major open exhibitions (in London) and each year produce a timetable for all the major art competitions in the UK and all the open exhibitions of the national art societies 
  • Plus I’ve created a portfolio of topic-specific websites for every aspect that I’ve researched online - from individual artists to how to ship your artwork or write an artist statement
  • Plus I’ve floated off specific interests and specialised activities into three additional blogs - such as my sketchbook blog Travels with a Sketchbook which has been recommended by The Times
Much of what I do only happens because I “had a go” and then developed a track record of being somebody who provides good coverage. That gave me the credibility when I started to expand and helped enormously in terms of getting permission to attend press views and restricted access events.  Which is how I am able to photograph major exhibitions before they open and get to meet the prizewinning artists.

My tip for those who want to make a mark writing about art is pursue your interests and write about what you know about or what you’re learning about.

I’ve personally never had a problem working out what to write about.  If anything the problem is sorting through the hundreds of ideas I’ve got stacked up as draft posts ready to go any time I need them!

Aleah Chapin - Winner of the BP Portrait Award 2012
(left to right: Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery,
Bob Dudley, CEO of BP, Aleah Chapin and Sir Michael Parkinson)

Katherine Tyrrell is based in London and has been blogging about art since January 2006 as well as making and exhibiting drawings in dry media.